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Irizar outlines growth plans after new site opening

In March, Irizar Asia Pacific officially unveiled its new Melbourne home. Now, the bodybuilder is looking to continue its upward trajectory

When Steve Heanes stood in front of a packed crowd in Irizar Asia Pacific’s new Australian facility, it was a moment 17 years in the making. Back in 2007, the global bodybuilder brought more than a century of experience to Australia. Now, Irizar has a new home in Melbourne’s south-east that will play host to its continued growth in the local market.

The unveiling of Irizar Asia Pacific’s new headquarters in Pakenham, Victoria epitomises Irizar’s growth trajectory in recent years.

Since the expansion in the local bus and coach sector, Irizar has fought through a variety of logistical challenges.

“In late 2021 and early 2022, we made the decision to relocate due to the growth we wanted to have in Australia and the constraints that our existing facility had,” Heanes told ABC.

“The flow of vehicles in and out and the lack of access to spare parts meant the old facility wasn’t conducive to the brand image that we wanted.”

For 135 years, Irizar has been manufacturing passenger transport vehicles. This rich history meant Heanes and the Australian team had to demonstrate to the global Irizar headquarters that the facility was a worthwhile investment to drive evolution in the local market.

Once this was decided, Heanes began looking to find the best location near Irizar’s existing site in Hallam. The search landed on Pakenham. While Irizar Asia Pacific’s leaders thought it was the ideal spot to move to, they had to ensure their workforce liked the idea of shifting locations.

“We went through a process with our staff to see if they’d be happy with moving, and fortunately all of our staff voted in favour of Pakenham,” Heanes says.

“Some of our staff then made the decision to relocate to the nearby area while we built the site. Now that it’s open, the majority of our staff live in the immediate area.”

In the midst of the COVID pandemic and other supply chain issues, Heanes braced himself for challenges with building the site. Within Irizar’s own four walls, the delayed impact to shipping disrupted its capacity to fulfil full order books. However, when it came to the construction of the Pakenham facility, Irizar’s forward planning meant it didn’t face the same supply troubles.

Irizar’s Steve Heanes. Image: Irizar

Once local council approvals came through and the first sods were turned, Irizar could focus on planning for a future move.

“Once it started, it was quite a quick process to build the site, giving us the chance to now finish off what we need to,” Heanes says.

The completion of construction meant that Irizar Asia Pacific could celebrate its recent success. In March, the bodybuilder held an industry event to celebrate the opening of the facility, with a range of industry partners, suppliers and customers heading to Pakenham to check out the new site.

“It’s been a relief now that it’s done,” Heanes says. “Moving is always difficult, especially when you move over the Christmas period, so now it’s done, we’re looking forward to the business efficiencies that we’ll get from a larger location.”

While Irizar’s new space includes a yard large enough to house the construction of bodies on various chassis, Heanes is most excited about the building. With Irizar’s order book remaining full, he’s looking for ways Irizar can improve its customer offerings.

The new site will play an integral role in this enhancement of Irizar’s capabilities, allowing Heanes and his team to grow the brand’s air-conditioning, servicing and bodywork segments. With 2024 already set to be a massive year for Irizar, Heanes is setting his sights on seeing what other services the bodybuilder can offer customers from its new site.

“We’ll also look to bolster our partnerships with suppliers, as now we’re in the immediate area of most of our suppliers,” Heanes says.

“We’ll also find ways to fasten the process of transporting vehicles to our OEM chassis partners who are a little further away. Moving vehicles around is dead running and time consuming, so we’ve got to limit moves for new vehicles and be more efficient.”

While Irizar has plenty on its plate moving forward, the opening event of the Pakenham site allowed the local team to stop and smell the roses for a night. Held in Irizar’s new factory, the evening was attended by a variety of industry partners, suppliers and members, including global Irizar CEO Imanol Rego and Hispacold managing director Roberto Recuerda Hernandez.

Image: Irizar

On the night, Heanes said the new site was the most significant moment in the bodybuilder’s Australian history since changing from a distributor agreement in 2013 to become Irizar Asia Pacific.

“From that day forward, we’ve strived to do the very best that we can in products, technology, safety and aftersales service,” he said.

“The learning curve was steep and we’ve accomplished great things so far. In 2022 we needed to grow the business and we delivered 121 units to finish number four in the bodybuilder market.

“While 2023 was a tough year for the company and a lot of people, we overcame the hurdles in front of us to deliver 171 vehicles and receive a 25.2 per cent market share.”

Heanes says a key indicator of Irizar’s growth in recent years is its market share increase. With the market remaining relatively stable, Irizar has been able to grow the business while also taking more market share.

“If you grow the business and the market increases, it’s not the same as taking market share when the market remains the same,” Heanes says.

“It’s important for us to deliver back to Irizar’s shareholders and give them the confidence to invest money. Irizar has been around globally for over 100 years, so to hear positive comments from Irizar colleagues around the world has been very rewarding.”

Alongside the new Pakenham site, Irizar is also beginning to tease product announcements. Following this year’s National Bus & Coach Show, Heanes says Irizar hopes to make some exciting announcements about products for the Australian and New Zealand markets.

With stable infrastructure in place courtesy of the Pakenham facility, Heanes has lofty goals for the future of Irizar in Australia and New Zealand.

“2024 has started off with a bang and we expect this year to be one of the strongest years we’ve had yet,” Heanes says.

“I’m very proud of our team and, as we expand, we’ll have exciting new projects on the way that I think our customer base will be excited by – we’re looking at potentially bringing an overseas product to Australia.

“We’ve been in Australia for 17 years so far, and it’s testament to the brand that we’re continuing to grow. We want the industry to know that Irizar is here to stay.”

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